Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I was sad when I saw retired Marine General John Kelly and current Chief of Staff to President Donald Trump debase himself in order to defend the President’s remarkers to a pregnant and now widowed wife of a fallen Green Beret. But let me explain, because context is everything when dealing with a situation like this.
But please let me preface my comments by explaining a bit of my background. I have spent most of my life in military society and have been formed by my experiences as a Navy Brat, seventeen and a half years in the Army, Army National Guard and Reserve, and another almost nineteen years in the Navy in which I have served over six years with the Marines and another four years in Joint assignments. I was born in a Navy hospital in 1960 and the military has been my life. From the time I was a young child it was my desire to serve in the military. When I got old enough to join my parents talked me out of enlisting immediately after high school to check out college. I did that, met the girl that became my wife, and realized that I still desired to serve in the military. Thirty-six years after first swearing into the Army in August 1981 I still serve. I have made multiple deployments, suffer from severe PTSD and other afflictions but I neither regret any part of my service nor think that somehow my service makes me any more of a patriot than people who love this country and serve in other ways. My brother has never served in the military but he is a stellar school administrator in a very challenging school district and his wife is a teacher. Neither of them has served in the military but there is no doubt that they love the country and have made sacrifices to serve the people of my hometown when they could have done other things.
First let me say that while he was on active duty I both respected and admired General Kelly, especially after his son, a Marine Corps Lieutenant was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. His loss is some ways, from a personal point of view unimaginable to me because I have never fathered any children and thus never experienced the loss of a son. I have sat with hundreds of fathers and mothers who have lost their children from all kinds of reasons including war to understand their loss from a clinical and pastoral standpoint but I cannot completely empathize because I never had a child or lost one.
Unfortunately, at least from my point of view General Kelly jumped the shark in attempting to defend the words of an unapologetic, and at least from all I have read, uncaring, President Trump. Honestly there is nothing that General Kelly could have done to salvage our the situation for the President unless the President himself had done something to apologize or to defuse the situation before it blew up. All the President had to do, even if he was sincere about it, was to say, “I didn’t mean to come across the way that I and do care for you. Please if I can do anything to help during these terrible times let me know, I will,stand by you as long as you need and will make sure that you are not forgotten.” But the President can admit no fault and blames everyone else for his mistakes, missteps, and outright fuck-ups. Because of that General Kelly should have said nothing and simply worked to contain the damage of the President, but he and the White House Press Secretary poured gasoline on the fire.
Despite being a Gold Star father he showed no empathy to the wife of the Green Beret, Mrs. Johnson. Instead he launched into a speech about the decline in traditional values, including respect for women (which the three times married, lecherous, and misogynistic President has never himself imbibed in). General Kelly then made his statement an ad hominem political attack on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida who listen to the call which riding with Sergeant Johnson’s widow. General Kelly, who had not been a target of any criticism then went to the defense of the President, insulted her, deprecated her, and was hugely and factually wrong in criticizing her remarks at an FBI building dedication in 2015, which was proven by video recordings of her comments in 2015. He also made a qualitative judgment about the value of those who have served in the military and those who haven’t. It was as he said, if you haven’t served I neither respect you or value your opinion. His comments sounded much like Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men.
In answering questions about General Kelly’s comments White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders basically told critics of Kelly:”If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.” But General Kelly is now retired. He serves in a civilian capacity and by the way no General or Admiral, active, Reserve, or retired is above criticism in our form of government and it is why that the founders had a deep distrust of military establishments and the machinations of Generals in politics. But Mr. Kelly does not seem to appreciate that distinction.
Conservative Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote:
“Recognition is now sinking in that Kelly is not so different than all the other politicians and officials who come in contact with Trump. To serve him requires suspension of integrity, and therefore those who serve become morally corrupted.”
That is not good. Elliot Cohen who served in the Bush White House said that Sanders’s comments were “a statement worthy of Wilhelmine Germany at its worst.”
What Mr. Kelly did was to throw gasoline on an already raging fire, and to act more as a politician by launching attacks on a congresswoman who heard the conversation that as someone trying to be the adult in the room. I can imagine that he has not really gotten over the loss of his son and that he is still hurting, and like many of us who served, often blames civilians who have never served in the military, especially at war, as part of the problem. However, it was the military after the Vietnam War who in conjunction with legislators from both parties that helped design this all-volunteer military in the mid-1970s.
Please do not get me wrong, but Mr. Kelly hurt his reputation and moral standing by wading into the fray.
So anyway, I could write more from other perspectives but I will wait.